Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Liverpool's 1989 FA Cup Winning Side - Where Are They Now?

The FA Cup Final, May 1989 was contested by Everton and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. It became one of the most memorable FA Cup Final in terms of excitement, emotions and tension. John Aldridge had put Liverpool 1-0 up after four minutes but Stuart McCall equalised in the 89th minute to force extra time.

In extra time Ian Rush put Liverpool 2-1 ahead but McCall made it 2-2. It was left to Rush again to score the winner in extra-time and give the Red half of Liverpool something to cheer in a very emotional season. With the two goals he scored here, Ian Rush became the record FA Cup Final goalscorer with five goals.

The triumphant Liverpool team list on that day consisted of,
Starting: Bruce Grobbelaar, Gary Ablett, Steve Staunton, Steve Nicol, Ronnie Whelan, Alan Hansen, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, Ray Houghton, John Barnes, Steve McMahon
Subs Used: Ian Rush, Barry Venison
Manager: Kenny Dalglish

But where are they now?

Bruce Grobbelaar was the flamboyant goalkeeper of the 80's. He was sometimes known as the "Clown Prince" of football at the peak of his career. Best remembered for his "wobbly knees" routine against Juventus in the European Cup Final, he tried his hand at management without any substantial success. He later became a participant chef in the television programme, Hell's Kitchen. He also does some part-time football punditry and has been seen on ESPN Star Sports recently.
He is voted at no. 17 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop"

Gary Ablett was a solid defender who performed brilliantly for Liverpool. One of the unsung heroes of the all-conquering Liverpool team of the 80's, he became Everton's youth team coach after his playing career ended. Ablett later moved across Stanley Park to become Liverpool's reserve team coach under Rafa Benitez. As reserve team coach, he proved his worth when Liverpool reserves team were crowned Premier Reserve League North champions and subsequently playoff champions in April 2008. He is now managing Stockport Country in League One.

Steve Staunton was a powerful attacking leftback who was a consistent performer for Liverpool. His quietly effective footballing career seemed to differ drastically from the fiery and turbulent times he had as Republic of Ireland manager. Failure to qualify for Euro2008 brought an end to his reign as Irish boss and the position is now held by Giovanni Trappatoni. Last seen working as a scout under Mick McCarthy for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Steve Nicol was the ultimate utility player for Liverpool. Back in the days when utility players were in vogue, Stevie Nicol ranks as the best of the lot. Able to play anywhere across defence and midfield, he could also chip in with a few vital goals during those title-winning seasons. He has found sustained success as coach and manager in Major League Soccer. Now in his eighth season at the helm of the New England Revolution, Steve Nicol is the longest-tenured coach in Major League Soccer and is regarded as one of the top tacticians and talent evaluators of soccer talent in the States. His 87 career victories entering the 2009 season have eclipsed the combined win total (73) of the previous four head coaches in Revolution club history. Steve "Chopsy" Nicol is also a guest analyst for ESPN International and ESPN's weekly "Press Pass" show.
His achievements in Liverpool have earned him no. 39 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

Ronnie Whelan was the 80's equivalent of Javi Mascherano. The player who does all the dirty work in midfield, Whelan was a formidable midfielder, able to tackle, set up plays and scoring goals from midfield. He was captain of the 1989 FA Cup Final winning Liverpool side. Whelan went into club management after his playing career ended, managing Sheffield United and in Greece. He plays occassionally in the Liverpool Masters team and now is an after-dinner speaker.
Very well regarded at Liverpool, he is placed at no.30 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

Alan Hansen must have been the one of the role models that Rio Ferdinand have fashioned his playing style upon. Cool, assured and comfortable on the ball, Alan Hansen was the epitome of the term "ball-playing centrebacks". A great player, Hansen blew us away with his football analytical views as a BBC pundit. His quote "You will never win anything with kids" will forever be etched in punditry history. He has gone on to forge a great career as a football presenter, columnist and analyst.
This stylish former centreback was voted in at no.12 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

Peter Beardsley was the perfect replacement when King Kenny decided to go into management full-time. A scorer and creator of many goals during the time when the trio of Barnes, Aldridge and Beardsley easily caused all opposition defences nightmares. He is now a coach at the Newcastle academy, training the young strikers there.
Ranked no.19 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

John Aldridge looked a bit like Ian Rush but that's not where the similarities end. It was pleasing that when the supreme goalscorer left for Juventus, Aldo came in and the goals kept coming. When Ian Rush returned for a second stint with Liverpool, Aldridge broke new ground at Real Sociedad, becoming one of the first few successful foreigners in the La Liga. He continued to score goals in Spain, earning a lot of fans in the process. Homesickness brought him back to Liverpool and Tranmere benefitted from his expert poaching skills. Aldridge now works as a pundit with Radio City 96.7FM and is a regular columnist with the Liverpool Echo.
This master blaster is placed at no.26 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

Ray Houghton was another hardworking midfielder for Liverpool during that great period. A very attack-minded midfielder, he would make late runs into the box and score. He is now an ambassador for Irish football. Houghton is now in demand as a pundit on the game, working for outlets such as RTÉ in Ireland, talkSPORT, Sky Sports and Sportsxchange in the UK. Houghton was once asked why he went into punditry. It was something that just fell into place rather than planned, Houghton explains. But he also expresses a deep wish to coach/manage if the right job comes around.
Ray Houghton is at no.52 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop"

John Barnes was quite simply a breathtaking player during his playing days. Words simply do not do justice to the ability and talent that Digger Barnes displayed for Liverpool. After a bad start at Celtic, Barnes achieved managerial success while at Jamaica, winning the Carribean Cup. He is now back as manager of Tranmere Rovers. His coaching methods have been labelled unconventional and his ideas have yet to bear fruit in the clubs that he has managed.
His memorable displays were what more than 110,000 fans remember when they voted Barnes at no.5 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop"

Steve McMahon was the one of the best hardmen in the game during the 80's. A hard-tackling, intelligent midfield player, his equivalent today would be Steven Gerrard. His goals are typically long range screamers which give goalkeepers no chance. He is currently now in Singapore working as ESPN Star Sports pundit and football analyst. He is also a director for sporting investment within the Profitable Group who were behind failed bids for Newcastle recently.
The Kop fans think McMahon should be placed at no.42 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

Barry Venison was at best a reserve team player within the all-conquering Liverpool team of the 80's. Nevertheless, his solid performances meant that he could always be counted upon to deliver when needed. He got involved in TV punditry after his career ended and was valued for his knowledgeable and insightful views on the game. No one can forget this outrageous and daring dresser. Venison is also a master of quirky quotes.
Came in at no.26 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

Ian Rush is the current highest Liverpool goals record holder. One of the best players in the world never to play in a World Cup, he went on to manage Chester City but failed to achieve anything significant. Since 2005, he is involved in media work as analyst and pundit for Sky Sports, ESPN and LFCTV. He still represents Liverpool in Masters Football UK Tournament.
His goalscoring exploits and match winning qualities warrant his placement at no.3 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

Kenny Dalglish needs no introduction. King Kenny as he is affectionately known, cannot do wrong in the eyes of the Kop faithful. Magnificient player for Liverpool, he won every honour possible in club football. In July 2009, after almost 10 years away from management, Rafa Benitez approached Dalglish to come back and join the staff in Anfield. Dalglish now acts also as the ambassador for the different events and overseas trips. He is also responsible for youth development and to unearth the next Kop star for Liverpool.
Dalglish is quite clearly no.1 in the list of "100 Players Who Shook The Kop".

After initially dabbling with football management, seven of the victorious 14 players have carved out successful media careers as pundits and football analysts. Highly opinionated and driven individuals, this mindset must have formed the bedrock of a successful period of Liverpool dominance in the 1980s.

This is the second post of a "Where Are They Now?" series. If you like this, then you may also like these.
Chelsea's 1997 FA Cup Winning Side

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Top 5 Reasons Why Bryan Robson Will Succeed As Thailand National Coach

With Peter Reid taking up the assistant manager position at Stoke City, Thailand FA set out in search of the best candidate to replace him. That search ended with the hire of Bryan Robson, the current global ambassador for Manchester United.

While Robbo has been the most outstanding player of his generation, he has yet to prove himself to be a top class manager. Rarely do the footballing world find top ex-players reinventing and establishing themselves into world-class managers. Robson belongs to this large pool of out-of-work wannabe managers.

Well, he has landed the plum job in the South East Asia region. Thailand is surely one of the top two teams in this region with a fanatical fan following.

He has been given three major targets by the Thai FA. Firstly, to qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup Finals in Qatar. Secondly, to make it to the 2012 London Olympics and finally, be the first South East Asian team to play in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup Finals.

But can Bryan Robson deliver?

Here are top 5 Reasons why Bryan Robson will succeed as the Thai National Team coach.

1. Assistant Coach Steve Darby
Steve Darby has been a mainstay in the Asian football scene for over ten years now. He has won numerous domestic and regional titles in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. His knowledge and expertise in Asian players will be very important inputs to Robson. Darby is tactically astute and has the all-important big game match temperament.

2. Group E is an easy group to qualify for the Asian Cup Finals 2011
Apart from powerhouse Iran, Jordan and Singapore should be no match for the talented Thais. Having gotten a draw at Jordan, Thailand will be expecting to beat Singapore and Jordan collecting maximum points before facing Iran.

3. No Language Barrier Problems
Robson's linguistic skills will not be put to the test as Thai translators will be used to channel his key messages to the players. Furthermore, Steve Darby is on hand to translate Robbo's English into Thai English if necessary. Game plan and tactics can be easily understood through trained translators.

4. The New Manager Effect
More often than not, when a new manager takes over a team, the net effect is always a positive one. Even more so, when the new manager has that world class player pedigree that Robson has. The Thai players who were in awe of Robbo during his playing days will want to do well for him. No doubt they will be motivated and enthusiastic to make an impression on the great Bryan Robson. This galvanising effect itself could carry Thailand into the 2011 Asian Cup Finals.

5. Robbo's Early Managerial Track Record
Looking back at his managerial career at club level, Robson had a brilliant spell in the earlier years as Middlesbrough manager. Winning promotion (twice) and guiding Boro to domestic cup finals (thrice) were special feats and Robson's was touted as a possible England manager then. The significant difference between his time at Middlesbrough and subsequent clubs was the enormous talent and quality of the Boro squad at that time. Hence, with the right quality and batch of players, Robson can achieve success with Thailand. Thailand clearly has the more superior and technically gifted players in the South East Asia region.

Yet, it is Captain Marvel's first foray into international football management. His first test will be a double-header against Singapore. Six points against Singapore should banish any ghosts in that Robbo's closet.

Manchester City 3-1 West Ham United: Cause For Concern As Hammers Falters

It was a bad week for West Ham. In the wake of the Battle at Boleyn, the English Football Association had decided to charge West Ham with four offences and the club has 14 days to respond to these charges. Hopefully the punishment will be justified rather than just an publicity attempt by the FA chairman to set an example.

With that in mind, beating Manchester City would have been the perfect tonic for the FA charge blues. Sadly, that was hardly going to happen, especially when the team lineup had a significant absentee in Matthew Upson. West Ham's defence missed his leadership and organizational abilities across the back four. James Collins' departure has hurt us more than we thought as ten goals have been conceded since transfer deadline and that cannot just be a coincidence.

West Ham just had no answer against Bellamy, Tevez and the amazing Martin Petrov. Where was Guille Franco? This could have been the most ideal match for a big game player. West Ham at this time are definitely struggling for form. Both defence and attack are areas of real concern.

Defensively, Zola and Clarke should be able to put things right on the training ground. The attack however, is a little bit trickier. That prolific goal scorer who can guarantee 15+ goals a season is still missing. We hope that Franco could somehow be that player. One positive point Diamanti has all the skills and temperament to be a terrace cult hero and he definitely can bring fans to their feet, reflecting the pleasing West Ham approach play.

Cult hero in the making - Image from Associated Press

West Ham's next four matches will be crucial to address this worrying decline....starting with Fulham's visit this Saturday to Upton Park. A good performance and subsequent three points will help move the Hammers up the league. Anything less than a win may not be good enough for West Ham who need to close the points gap against Fulham. Hence, Zola has declared that the players should treat the Fulham match like a "Cup Final".

Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium will be next and Tony Pulis' side is a tough side to beat. Zola will need to be aware of the aerial assault threat that the Potters possess. Even in this early stage of the season, a potential six-pointer which could propel West Ham to mid-table security is on the cards.

With six points in the bag, Zola can send his team out full of confidence against a very beatable Arsenal side. Finally to round up the October fixture, the Hammers will have to face the current most potent strike duo, Sunderland's Kenwyne Jones and Darren Bent. The duo have scored eleven goals so far. A crucially important month, West Ham must really start banging in the goals that their play deserves. It has been a stop and start season thus far, we need to start putting a winning run together. What better way to start that run than in a London derby against Fulham.

So will West Ham's season begin against Fulham? It must.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fran Merida: Arsenal's Ready Made Replacement for Cesc Fabregas

Cesc Fabregas' name has been synonymous with Arsenal in recent years. He is undoubtedly their biggest star and the most dynamic player that they have. His ability to see a gap and to pick out a team mate is now bordering on legendary status. Couple this with his new-found confidence in front of goal and you are looking at a player that even Arsene Wenger will find hard to replace.

Fear not, Arsene! You do have an able lieutenant in your midst. He is Spanish as well and his name is Fran Merida. So if Fabregas cannot resist the overtures of Barcelona, Fran Merida is ready to step in. If the Arsenal board must accept the millions that Barcelona will throw at them after winning the 2010 Champions League, then Fran Merida is the man that Arsene Wenger can entrust the role of midfield playmaker. Possessor of a great left foot, excellent passing ability and fantastic technique, he is more Juan Roman Riquelme than Fabregas.

Fran Merida - Spain's U-20 Midfield Maestro

Francisco Merida Perez, aged 19, born in Catalonia, Barcelona, signed professional terms with Arsenal on his 17th birthday. He had a season out on loan to Real Sociedad last year and did extremely well at the Spanish Segunda, scoring one goal and six assists. He would have had a better stint in Spain had Chris Coleman not got the sack as manager.

Fran Merida is now playing for Spain in the FIFA U-20 World Cup Tournament. He has already shown his class and quality, scoring three goals and assisting on one. A champion already at world junior level, he is as prodigious as Fabregas was at his age. In fact, Fabregas was already thrust into the Premiership at 19 years old. Fran Merida is just as good if not better than Cesc Fabregas at the same age.

Merida can truly be the driving force for Arsenal should Fabregas decide to leave this summer. In order for Fran Merida to make an impact, Arsene Wenger must unleash the midfielder now and allow him time to learn and grow accustomed to the demands of the Premiership. The time is now, Arsene...release the shackles on Fran Merida.

2009/2010 Barclays Premier League: Weeks 5 & 6 Review

Since I did not do the EPL review for week 5, I figured I'd might as well combined weeks 5 and 6 together in this bumper post on the Barclays Premier League weekend matches review.

Week 5 was all about the fiercely contested Manchester derby in which an Adebayor-less Manchester City traded punches with Man United. The six (or was it seven?) minutes of extra time afforded by the referee have been hotly debated by blogs and media to death. All I can say is that scoring in extra time (with or without the help of the referees) have been Manchester United's trait for the past ten years and it will stay that way. Therefore, Hughes, an ex-Ferguson pupil, should know better than to let his City players lose concentration. Nevertheless, City deserve a lot of credit and admiration for coming through two Big 4 clashes better than a poor Tottenham Hotspur. One do wonder though how differently the Manchester derby would have turned out if the big Togo striker had featured.

Saturday, September 19, 2009
FT Burnley 3 - 1 Sunderland
FT Arsenal 4 - 0 Wigan Athletic
FT Bolton Wanderers 1 - 1 Stoke City
FT Hull City 0 - 1 Birmingham
FT Aston Villa 2 - 0 Portsmouth
FT West Ham United 2 - 3 Liverpool
Sunday, September 20, 2009
FT Manchester United 4 - 3 Manchester City
FT Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 - 1 Fulham
FT Everton 3 - 0 Blackburn Rovers
FT Chelsea 3 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur

Week 6 saw a goal fest weekend and one stunning upset. The upset being the Wigan 3-1 win over Chelsea. Roberto Martinez has achieved a feat that no other Wigan boss had managed previously i.e. to gain a win over a Big 4 club. A great team performance from Wigan in which they used the flanks very well and outplayed Chelsea who were below par. A better performance will be needed from Chelsea if they are to beat an in-form Liverpool this coming weekend's Super Sunday. Rafa Benitez will have seen how Wigan's game plan of attacking the Chelsea fullbacks cemented about "cult hero" status for Roberto Martinez.

Liverpool have clearly learnt from their failures last season and are racking up big wins against teams that they dropped points last season. After a narrow 3-2 win over a resilient West Ham, Fernando Torres and gang demolished a hapless Hull City 6-1. Rafa's decision to start Gerrard in central midfield and reinstating Albert Riera on the left of midfield gave Liverpool a well-balanced formation. In conjunction with Liverpool's run of three successive wins, Lucas Leiva is playing immensely well. He is currently the third best tackler in the Premiership, with a success rate of 71%. Benitez will have a midfield selection dilemma when Mascherano returns after illness.

Conversely, Manchester United and Arsenal were made to struggle against lesser opponents. Only the brilliance of the evergreen Ryan Giggs conjured up two goals for United to edge past Stoke City. The subtleness of Cesc Fabregas and the accuracy of Robin Van Persie won the match against Fulham. Van Persie is enjoying an injury-free run in the Arsenal attack this season and is successfully making Arsene Wenger forget about the sale of Adebayor. Arsene may also have unearthed another gem in goalkeeper Vito Mannone who was the man of the match for me.

Saturday, September 26, 2009
FT Portsmouth 0 - 1 Everton
FT Blackburn Rovers 2 - 1 Aston Villa
FT Tottenham Hotspur 5 - 0 Burnley
FT Birmingham 1 - 2 Bolton Wanderers
FT Wigan Athletic 3 - 1 Chelsea
FT Stoke City 0 - 2 Manchester United
FT Liverpool 6 - 1 Hull City
FT Fulham 0 - 1 Arsenal
Sunday, September 27, 2009
FT Sunderland 5 - 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers

So there we have it, after seven matches, there is a familiar look about the league table, the Big 4 clubs are occupying the top five positions, with Spurs in fourth and Arsenal in fifth spot. These may change later on Monday night when Manchester City plays West Ham United at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Portsmouth's late transfer deadline signings were all on display in the loss against Everton. Pompey are in serious decline and have lost all seven matches thus far. It looks increasingly likely that Paul Hart will be replaced by David O'Leary if they do not get three points against Wolves this Saturday.

In-Form Team: Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton
Out of Luck and Out of Form: Portsmouth, Hull City and West Ham United

Next weekend will also see another intriguing matchup, between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. There have been some very memorable matches between these two teams in recent seasons, not least the 4-4 thriller in the Champions League last season. There is no doubt that it will be another emotional roller coaster weekend.

Related Articles:
2009/2010 Barclays Premier League Week 1 Review
2009/2010 Barclays Premier League Week 2 Review
2009/2010 Barclays Premier League Week 3 Review
2009/2010 Barclays Premier League Week 4 Review

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Contrasting Careers Of Robbie Fowler and David Beckham

I came across a Fox Sports Australia article about Robbie Fowler scoring goals again in the A-League. That got me thinking about the contrast in the twilight football career of Fowler and Beckham.

Robert Bernard Joseph Fowler, now aged 34, turned professional in 1992 started his football career in Liverpool. David Robert Joseph Beckham, also aged 34, turned professional in 1992 with Manchester United. Both players won their first England cap in 1996. Both have won the English PFA Young Player of The Year award at the start of their career. These are interesting similarities in the two players' careers which have taken them to different parts of the world. Note that they even have the same middle name. Finally, there is the willingness of both players to become marquee signing of the current leagues that they play in. And that's where it ends.

Robbie Fowler signed to become North Queensland Fury marquee player on 4th February 2009 and was expected to carry the Australian A-League to greater heights. He obviously understood the high aspirations of the A-League as he embraced his new status and has thrilled the fans Down Under. Three goals in his last three matches have earned him rave reviews and he is being labelled as a true footballing genius. He is well-liked, popular among team mates and quite willing to act as mentor and role model to impart valuable football experience. Fowler is letting his football do the work of enhancing the A-League reputation, as can be seen in the video highlight by dinxbeau with this piece of brilliance.

In contrast, Major League Soccer authorities had hoped with the transfer of David Beckham to the LA Galaxy in July 2007, that the profile of MLS would grow in the football world. Though there is a bigger worldwide focus on MLS with Beckham there, it would seem however, that this "experiment" has not worked out as well as hoped. If MLS wanted a Beckham circus, that's exactly what they got. David Beckham has definitely attracted a lot of attention and controversy during his time at MLS. Fans will remember the endless string of injuries in his first year or the desire to play in Europe in his second year or the neverending saga of his return to the Galaxy this year and finally, the recent confrontation with the fans on his first home match back from Milan. Beckham is still thinking about himself rather than the league and it showed clearly in his actions. Certainly not marquee signing type behaviour. He has, through his actions, implied that he do not want to play in MLS. It has truly been a mixed bag, profile-wise, MLS has gained a larger following but by and large, football-wise, David Beckham have failed to produce the goods.

Perhaps Fowler accepted the fact that his career in the top flight was over and chose sunny Queensland as his last hurrah whereas Beckham clearly believes he can still cut it in the top flight and want that last big "go out at the top" farewell. It could also be that Australian fans understand soccer whereas USA fans do not.

But for now, football reports in Australia and America suggest that Robbie Fowler is enhancing the reputation of A-League through his superb goalscoring skills whereas David Beckham is just lending his world-famous brand to MLS, his football drawing mixed reactions.

You can read what the footballing world think about these two footballing icons,
Fowler shows the way
Fowler genius best so far
Beckham speaks on loan, explores MLS ownership
What Beckham must do to be successful in MLS
David Beckham knows how to put on a show
Beckham: MLS Owner?

2009/2010 Barclays Premier League: Week 4 Review

Another weekend of drama went by and these are exactly what makes the English Premier League the most entertaining football league in the world.

On a Saturday that Cristiano Ronaldo was left on the Real Madrid bench, Emmanuel Adebayor managed to do everything right, catapulting him into cult status among the City fans as well as becoming public enemy no. 1 in the eyes of Arsenal and non-City fans alike. Nevertheless his performance was the difference between a powder-puff Arsenal and a strong Manchester City.

In keeping with his pragmatic image, Mark Hughes started with Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong, defensive midfielders who are skilled at breaking up play. The Arsenal midfield again could not cope whenever the opposition applies some hard-tackling midfield power play. All of us know that physically the Arsenal midfield cannot compete and Arsene must do something about it.

Emmanuel Adebayor getting the riot act from Mark Clattenburg - Image from AP Photo

Adebayor's header in a strong 10 minute spell for Man City prove decisive and killed off any Arsenal comeback. That was his heroic part and kept his 100% record of scoring in every game alive. However, geniuses are normally flawed. Adebayor's moment of insanity had him almost causing a riot and pitch invasion just by celebrating at the visiting Arsenal section. Manchester City deserved the win, albeit in less than spectacular fashion. Manchester United will prove a tougher test but City have answered all doubters thus far, including myself.

Defoe's goal stunned United but it wasn't enough - Image from AP Photo

Tottenham Hotspur also had some question to answer in their match against the reigning champions, Manchester United. They came up short as ten-man United reversed a one-goal lead to run out 3-1 victors. Wayne Rooney again is carrying this team on his back, producing another great performance. He is surely the man in which Ferguson and Capello pin their hopes on. Just like Gerrard symbolises everything Liverpool, United is all about Rooney. Dimitar Berbatov had an effective game as the link man between midfield and attack. I have said before that Berbatov's best position is as the hole player and Ferguson will get the best out of the classy Bulgarian if he starts playing there.

A rare hattrick by the Israeli Captain - Image by Reuters

Liverpool looked to have played themselves into a purple patch with a commanding 4-0 win over Burnley. Yossi Benayoun's busy performance earned him a hattrick and a hatful of praises. After the hard-fought win against Bolton, Benitez started Gerrard in midfield and gave Benayoun a chance on the right flank. A chance that the Israeli captain seized and showed what a superb player he is in the attacking third of the field. For once, there was balance in the team and apart from Mascherano, the best XI was on the pitch for Liverpool.

Chelsea had a difficult time against Stoke, grinding out a win at the Britannia Stadium. Didi Drogba however scored possibly the best goal of the weekend with a left foot shot that left the Stoke goalkeeper rooted. Again it was the character and desire of Chelsea that got them the three points. A throwback to the Mourinho era, Chelsea are dangerous this season, without a doubt.

For all their beautiful and attractive passing game, West Ham are struggling at the moment without any potency upfront. Although not a soft touch like Arsenal, the lack of firepower means that the Hammers will not get the end result that their playmaking justify. Liverpool is the visiting team this Saturday. The Reds do have Champions League exertions this Wednesday and so prove to be "easier" opposition on Saturday. Still, Zola will need to get the team working hard on the practice group to ensure that the strikers find the back of the net. Starting Alessandro Diamanti will surely help as he looked excellent coming on as a substitute.

One observation of note, although no West Ham players scored this weekend, a number of ex-Hammers stars did, these were
1. Craig Bellamy
2. Jermain Defoe
3. Paul Konchesky
4. Yossi Benayoun
The four scored six goals between them on a weekend where 36 goals were scored. Just thought some of you may enjoy this.

Lastly, last weekend's big matches, in my opinion, proved that Spurs yet again will flatter to deceive while Manchester City are genuine title contenders this season. More will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Things That Make You Go Hmmm - Power Of Team Spirit

Some thought provoking pictures to illustrate the beauty of team spirit. Some oldies but goldies.

These pictures demonstrate how close and attached team mates, both international and domestic players can become as they strive and compete towards a common winning cause.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Barclays Premier League: The Big 4 Party Is About To Be Gatecrashed

Week 4 of the Barclays Premier League starts with a top of the table clash. The Big 4 Club is about to be gatecrashed by Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. This should be the weekend where Spurs and City prove that they can lay legitimate claim to an expansion of the Big 4 to a Super Six. Winning against Manchester United and Arsenal respectively will really make the football world sit up and take notice.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United
This is the chance for Harry Redknapp to prove that he has the necessary credentials to be a winning manager. Capturing the FA Cup with Portsmouth have given him confidence that he is a winner. Spurs have become a team with resolve and spirit to play attractive football while also having the size for the physical side. A lot will depend on how well Manchester United defend against Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon. The pace and trickery of Lennon will be a test for Evra but the seasoned defender must have studied videos after videos on the England winger to put one over him for once. Manchester United have a few match winners but will Berbatov perform or will he wilt? The midfield weaknesses are yet to be resolved and this is an area that Spurs have the upper hand. A win for Spurs however will gee the players up in anticipation of another crunch match the following week, a trip to Chelsea. Luka Modric will be missed but the aquisition of Niko Kranjcar will mean that he won't be missed. A draw looks a likely result though.

Manchester City vs. Arsenal
The loss of Andrei Arshavin will be a significant one for Arsene Wenger, going into this game. Mark Hughes is a practical manager, he will try to stop Arsenal from playing their passing game. Adebayor will be keen to add to his 100% record of scoring in every game thus far. He also have a point to prove to the Arsenal fans. City's Tevez and Robinho came back from international duties with knocks and are doubtful for the match. Hughes will employ the spoiling tactics to try and disrupt the Gunners play. The contest between Gareth Barry and Cesc Fabregas will be an interesting one. The City defence will have their first real test against the movement and pace of Eduardo and Robin Van Persie. The mood in the City camp seem to suggest that Hughes have managed to keep egos and personalities in check. Adebayor and Tevez have both declared recently that they have felt love from the City fans. The main difference between the two clubs is the giant Togolese striker and he may prove to be the match winner in this match.

Elsewhere, Liverpool will gun for a home win against Burnley to close the gap over the teams at the top. A full strength Liverpool squad awaits giantkillers Burnley and nothing less than three points will be sufficient. Rafa Benitez must be wary of Owen Coyle's team since they brought about an embarassing FA Cup defeat in 2005. Super-confident Chelsea will travel to Stoke, looking to match Stoke's physicality and will expect to pick up all three points to go five straight matches undefeated.

Potentially explosive and similarly intriguing is the Midlands derby between Birmingham and Aston Villa. Both clubs are having a decent season thus far. Birmingham however need to find ways to score goals. ALex McLeish have yet to fully unleash the threat of Christian Benitez and it is hard to understand why. Barry Ferguson and James McFadden will naturally be competing in the middle of the park and that's where Birmingham could win it. Villa's midfield has been weakened as Martin O'Neill did not replace Gareth Barry adequately.

Another definitive round of weekend fixtures are in store. A weekend where we will find out if Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City can really shake up the established Big 4 and make this season all about the "Super Six". All will be stay tuned!

Wigan Vs. West Ham United: Creativity and Invention Should Give Hammers Three Points

Ahead of this match at the DW Stadium, Gianfranco Zola has no injury worries except calf trouble from Jack Collision sustained during a Wales U-21 match. More good news is that Valon Behrami and Alessandro Diamanti had a fantastic reserves match against Birmingham City. Behrami and Diamanti are fast becoming great friends and that is sure to be helping Diamanti settle in at West Ham.

Zola has said that Behrami will start on the bench as he nears full competitive fitness. Diamanti, on the other hand, should start this match to give West Ham fans a glimpse of his immense talent. Those at the reserves match saw firsthand, his freekick prowess with a goal in each half.

This is his first freekick goal compiled by bobjea.

This is his second freekick goal also by bobjea.

Man-for-man, West Ham have the stronger team and should be able to beat the Latics if the performance is right. This time round, Zola will be looking for creativity and invention from both Diamanti and Jimenez to unlock a competent Wigan defence. In Wigan's game against Manchester United, they matched United for 55 minutes until Rooney scored that first goal. Hence, the first goal will be crucial and the Hammers should have enough quality to conjure chances and put at least one away. Titus Bramble is always the weakest link in Wigan's defence and the attack should focus on upsetting his focus and confidence.

West Ham have beaten Wigan three times in their last four meetings. This one should be no different. Go Hammers!

West Ham Players On International Duty: Player Performance

Over the international weekend, several West Ham players were in action for their respective national teams. Here are the players performances which I have compiled from matches I have seen and other football news reports.

Robert Green and Matthew Upson saw first team action as England routed Croatia 5-1 in a one-sided match. Robert Green had a great game with some very assured goalkeeping and excellent positioning. He was unfortunate to let in the solitary goal but he would have taken heart from a solid and confident display. He has proven that he can be counted on whenever called upon by Fabio Capello.

Similarly Matty Upson showed just why he is so highly valued by the West Ham faithful. It was a calm and powerful display from Upson, giving the Croatian strikers very little to work on. His passing were slightly wayward but his performance was a good one. While the first choice central defensive pairing will Ferdinand and Terry, Matthew Upson will be the most obvious backup if either one of the central pairing were to be injured or suspended.

Carlton Cole was not on the subs bench although he was at the match. No doubt he would have put in a decent shift if called upon.

Playing in the UEFA U-21 2011 European qualifier, James Tomkins again showed why Zola was able to accept Aston Villa's bid for James Collins. He can make defending look really simple like Rio Ferdinand.

Danny Gabbidon did not have a very good game against Russia for Wales. His foul on Kerzhakov resulted in the second goal from Russia after Wales had worked hard to equalise. Nevertheless, it was good to see him back working himself into full fitness for both club and country.

American Jonathan Spector had mixed reviews for his USA performances against first, El Salvador and later, Trinidad & Tobago. Shaky and nervous against El Salvador as USA sneaked a 2-1 win but Spector redeemed himself with a good defensive display against the Ticos where he kept first Tinto and then Edwards quiet the whole game.

Soon-to-be new Hammer, Guillermo Franco played in Mexico's 3-0 win against Costa Rica. He scored an easy second goal for El Tri. Equally dangerous with both feet and excellent in the air with a great leap, he would make a capable backup for Carlton Cole. You can see ten of his best goals HERE (while Franco was playing for Monterey).

Ex-Hammer James Collins also played in the Welsh defeat and was excellent. West Ham will miss this big man.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

West Ham United's Class of 1999: How Successful Can They Become?

In 1999, West Ham United won the InterToto Cup beating Metz 3-2 over a two-legged tie. It marked a significant chapter in the careers of some of the younger players and the manager of West Ham at that time. They had ensured UEFA Cup football.

Then manager, Harry Redknapp had moulded an entertaining and skillful passing team with a very English mentality. In that team were four young and hungry West Ham players who would eventually be very influential in the English game.

These four players were,
1. Frank Lampard
2. Rio Ferdinand
3. Joe Cole
4. Michael Carrick

All four are now established England internationals. Between the four of them, they have won all domestic and European honours. Their skills and talents have taken them to the very peak of their football careers. The Intertoto Cup did serve as European exposure for Frank, Rio, Joe and Michael. It became their springboard to further successes with their current clubs both in England and European competitions. Can Lampard, Ferdinand, Cole and Carrick make further history by winning the World Cup for the Three Lions next year? With Don Fabio at the helm, these four former West Ham favourites have an exceptional chance to make history and soothe 44 years of English misery.

The Academy have clearly been producing great players throughout the years. These four players surely rank as some of the best that the West Ham Academy have produced over the years.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How Did West Ham's Players Perform Against Blackburn?

Iain Dale, a celebrity West Ham supporter since 1974, has an engaging blog on the Hammers - West Ham Till I Die. In there, Iain had set up a very nice voting panel after each match for visitors to the blog to rate the players performance for that match. The condition set was that only those who actually watched the match live and/or on TV shall vote.

Here are the West Ham players performance against Blackburn in the nil-all draw.
James Collins was rated by Hammers fans as the top performer on the day, followed by Rob Green and Matty Upson. Generally, the defence held out well against the physical Chris Samba and Jason Roberts. I thought it was a good point and Carlton Cole should have scored after an excellent run beating three defenders on the way. Carlton Cole has had an impressive start to the new season, long may that continue. Being in the England squad should add on to his confidence level and hopefully with a bit of luck, we shall see the opposition goal net bulging more often as a result of his efforts.

Touching upon the transfer deadline which concluded with a whimper yesterday, the addition of Manuel da Costa and Alessandro Diamanti should add strength and invention to West Ham. Though I would have liked to welcome another striker, in the end, two players in and one player out sounds like a very good bit of business for Franco Zola and Nani.

Watch out Wigan! The Latics are struggling at the moment and three points could be on the cards for the Hammers.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009/2010 Barclays Premier League Transfer News: What An AntiClimax!

Thanks to all those who had followed The Flat Back Four on Twitter today. To say that we had a great time chatting and tweet-ing about possible transfer moves would be stretching it a bit. In fact, it was quite the opposite. When the expectation and hype gets built up so much and all we get is a £12m Michael Turner switch from Hull City to Sunderland, then it's time we face the facts and realise that this is as good as it gets in the Barclays Premier League this season. The league will just have to make do with the player pool that its got.

Here are the tweets trail from us following the transfer news since 3 hours ago.
  1. transfer window has closed.....quietly...and without fanfare....
  2. Portsmouth is officially the busiest club in the transfer window...Aruna Dindane looks like the best of them...
  3. Richard Dunne to Villa is a DONE deal! also Anton Ferdinand is refusing to move to Spurs...thats a surprise...
  4. a bit of an anticlimax this season's opening transfer deadline....let's hope the January version will be more exciting....
  5. only 8 mins more before transfer window ends
  6. RT @FourFourTwo Nicky Shorey prepares for life in the Villa reserves as his mooted loan to Pompey falls through
  7. @westhamfootball i am still holding out hope for another striker
  8. RT @westhamfootball Sky Sports News report Spurs enquired about West Ham's Matthew Upson (Another Upson rumour? - hope so)
  9. Sky confirmed that Bentley will stay at Spurs - no takers for the one time wizard
  10. oh wait, what am I reading about swap deal between Alan Hutton and Anton Ferdinand? Surely not...?
  11. @diddyduck it's a good signing, Turner is a strong defender and perfect for Anton Ferdinand
  12. Still waiting official news on Niko Kranjcar to Spurs...should be a matter of time now.
  13. Hull City signs Ibrahim Sonko on loan from Stoke City...Shawcross should be staying at Stoke if this is the case...
  14. RT @redduffman RT @itvfootball good signing for Bolton - Klasnic is a very determined player.
  15. will rank as the best of the transfers RT @empireofthekop I am seeing more & more Bentley rumours, might be something. Talk is one year loan
  16. disappointing transfers so far...still 40mins to go though....
  17. Okay it doesnt look like RVN or Bentley will be at Melwood this time round, but can we see Chamakh at Upton Park? That would lite up the day
  18. RT @Portsmouth_FC Portsmouth's last man standing David James on the Fratton Park turmoil
  19. Johnny Heitinga is Everton's...a defender, good signing at 5M GBP
  20. RT @championsonfox Bolton have picked up Ivan Klasnic; a report is in that Roman Pavlyuchenko will move to Spartak from Spurs
  21. RT @championsonfox Barcelona offload Eidur Gudjohnsen to Monaco. Freddy Adu has moved to Belenses from Benfica
  22. DONE! Money available for Chamakh now that Ginger Collins heads to Villa Park for GBP5m!! Hate to see him go but Gabby and Tomkins good
  23. No! hands off! Chamakh is West Ham's! RT @arsenalff Arsenal line up deadline swoop for Marouane Chamakh
  24. Bolton is on verge of signing Croatian Ivan Klasnic...a bit too late to continue the Croatian conspiracy isn't it?
  25. @alexthackray Chamakh does not seem that prolific but has a play like Ronaldo...check this out...
  26. Help! Transfer rumours galore!!! Dunno what's real anymore...or is that what makes transfer window deadline exciting and unpredictable?
  27. I did predict Bentley to Liverpool in my blog post, will this happen?
  28. Another transfer rumour! David Bentley move is back on! but to Liverpool!!
  29. YES!! rumour has it that Ruud Van Nistelrooy is talking to Liverpool>>hope it goes through!
  30. @Gazuk1892 @empireofthekop Noooo! Carlton Cole to Liverpool? wow, that would make a big talking point! is it reliable?
  31. two more hours to go until transfer window ends...still no "BIG" signings yet!
  32. RT @Wayne_Rooney Deadline day blues?: No signings left a void on deadline day? Take heart in Hargreaves' impending return...yeah right!
  33. Hughesy has said no Bentley signing....there goes the biggest signing of this transfer deadline...
  34. Pompey looking desperate...first it's Tommy Smith now its Watford's Mike Williamson...not quite Premiership class are they?
  35. Carlos Vela could be on a loan move to Fulham...this looks a good fit for Fulham who need a creative hole-type striker!
  36. @badgerwolf no way!!! beckham will always be at Milan...Italian football suits his "pace"
  37. Will we see Van Nistelrooy back in the Premiership? That would be cool...let's wait and see what the transfer deadline will throw up!
  38. RT @Soccer_Wire Blues Looking For Left-back. Birmingham have Armand Traore and Gareth Bale on their radar... #goalpostr
  39. West Ham's James Collins set for a Villa switch...this means that Zola has money now to sign Marouane Chamakh! Augurs well for the Hammers!
  40. Biggest surprise so far is Man City in talks with David Bentley! Is it another success story?
  41. Tal Ben Haim and Hassan Yebda signed for Portsmouth! Is Yebda any good? #goalpostr
  1. superbus@theflatbackfour Here's what I want to know: who the hell is replacing all those Sunderland players that left?
  2. diddyduck@theflatbackfour Turner to Sunderland is my highlight! (of course i would say that)
  3. superbus@theflatbackfour If my Football Manager game is any indication, that was fated; he transfered there in '09 there, too.
  4. jjminkYES!! rumour has it that Ruud Van Nistelrooy is talking to Liverpool>>hope it goes through! (via @theflatbackfour)
  5. Gazuk1892@theflatbackfour I cant see Bentley to Liverpool I dont mind him and maybe a few years ago but if anything were crying out for top strikers
  6. kazitoshiu and me both mate! RT @theflatbackfour: YES!! rumour has it that Ruud Van Nistelrooy is talking to Liverpool>>hope it goes through!
  7. alexthackray@theflatbackfour I haven't seen Chamakh play but there has been a lot said about him this summer! Good signing for West Ham if it happens!
  8. Gazuk1892@theflatbackfour The rumour has only surfaced in the past hour we will see ;)
  9. empireofthekop@theflatbackfour it is just crazy I rumours going around like crazy.
  10. 3thbiIcon_lock@theflatbackfour hope this works out

At this time, among the best signings so far have been Glen Johnson to Liverpool and Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City. Both have fully repaid their employers with sterling performances. The new UK tax policy have been a major hindrance to the foreign player influx, with most European continent-based players preferring moves to Italy and Spain instead.

In England itself, the financial might of Manchester City's owners is putting all other clubs into the shade. Spending close to £124m on great players which is spare change if you consider that the owners just sold an 11% share in Barclays Bank pocketing £1.1B in the process. Manchester City has money to burn, no other club in the Premier League will come close to matching them in the spending department. So if there are massive signings to be made, it will be City making them.

What was the bargain transfer signing so far? I dare say the £2.5m that Harry Redknapp just paid for Niko Kranjcar has the 'Arry hallmark written all over it. A great piece of business!

More news are filtering into the media centres in UK but at this time, we are suffering stage 3 as seen in this Studs-Up comic. An oldie but goldie.

Finally, West Ham are frantically thrashing out a deal to bring Benjani Mwaruwari to Upton Park, presumably on a loan deal. Could be worth a gamble and definitely a like-for-like replacement for Carlton Cole. Definitely something to follow through on.

What do you think? Has the transfer window deadline signings been an anticlimax for you? Let me know your comments.

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